We all know sleep is good for us, but this knowledge alone won't help us sleep better (in fact, the stress of not sleeping could be another thing keeping you awake at night!)
Luckily, there are several evidence-based things that we can all do to help us sleep better.
How to sleep better: 10 tips for a better night's sleep.
1. Stick to a regular bedtime
Our bodies are cyclical: they follow 24-hour 'circadian rhythms' which help to regulate our sleep and wake cycles.
Going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning helps to reinforce this natural cycle. When your body knows what's up, falling asleep at night is that much easier, and the sound of your alarm clock in the morning is a lot less painful.
If your life allows it, try to aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
If your life allows it, try to aim for seven or eight hours ofsleep a night.
2. Embrace natural light
Another factor that plays a key role in regulating your circadian rhythms is light. When you don't see daylight, your body gets confused 🤷♀️
If you struggle with sleep, make sure you're exposing yourself to lots of natural light during the day, getting out and about in daylight hours and letting the light in when you're indoors.
3. Minimise evening screen time
Just as not getting enough daylight can disrupt your circadian rhythms, too much artificial light at night can have the same effect.
Blue light (the light from your phone or laptop) also blocks the release of melatonin - the hormone that makes you sleepy. Our phones are designed to keep us stimulated, so if you want a really great night's sleep, try leaving yours in another room while you sleep.
4. Optimise your space
Your bedroom should be a space that feels safe and relaxing, and ideally separate from work. Different temperatures, sounds and lighting can make a big difference to the quality of your sleep, so try to minimise artificial noise and light where possible.
Tip: the best night-time temperature for most adults is around 18 degrees.
5. Wind down before bed
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6. Move more in the day
Do you find it harder to sleep on the days you move less?
According to research, exercise doesn't just keep us fit - it can also help us sleep better. One study found that exercise almost halved the amount of time it took for people to fall asleep, while several others promote exercise as a solution to insomnia.
Try not to exercise too close to bedtime, however. As it increases your adrenaline levels, exercise can stop you sleeping when performed too late in the day.
7. Skip your afternoon coffee
Did you know caffeine has a half-life of six hours? That means if you drink a cup of coffee at 4, it will still be in your system at 10.
One study found that caffeine consumed six hours before bed had the potential to reduce sleep time by an hour. If you're particularly sensitive to caffeine, this could be more.
This is because caffeine blocks our adesonine receptors (the chemicals that make us feel sleepy), and can also interrupt our circadian rhythms.
Coffee affects everyone differently (we all have that relative that can drink a double espresso after dinner and fall straight to sleep), so it's worth experimenting and seeing what works for you. However, if you're someone who often struggles to fall asleep, skipping your afternoon coffee might help!
8. Watch your alcohol intake
Although it has a sedative effect, alcohol tends to disrupt the quality of your sleep. In particular, it interferes with REM sleep: that deeper, more restorative sleep cycle that experts believe plays a key role in memory consolidation.
There's also a link between frequent alcohol intake and insomnia, with studies suggesting that those who drink often tend to have more trouble sleeping, and may feel they need alcohol to fall asleep, resulting in a vicious cycle of dependency.
So although it may feel like that evening glass (or three) of wine is your friend, it might be doing more harm than good to your sleep routine.
9. Address your anxious thoughts
If it's not caffeine keeping you up at night - it might be anxious thoughts.
Do you ever find that as soon as your head hits the pillow at night, you're suddenly confronted with all your worries, past regrets and future fears?
Often, these things come up at night because we don't allow them any space during the day.
We spend our days distracted: glued to our screens and perpetually occupied with work, podcasts, music, Netflix - all of which take us out of our bodies and away from our thoughts.
Here are some techniques that can help you to address your anxieties earlier in the day and stop them seeping into your bedroom at night:
- Worry time: allow 15 minutes each day to fully focus on your worries. You can write them down, tell someone else about them or simply confront them in your mind. Devoting this time to your anxieties should step them feeding into the rest of your day (or night).
- Get it on paper: Keep a notebook by your bed so that you can write down anything that comes to your mind and hopefully let it go.
- Talk it out: If you're often awake a night with a busy mind, consider speaking to a therapist about what's going on for you. It may be that you have some unresolved anxieties and would benefit from some professional support.
10. Try meditation
Meditation can have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep, and is often suggested as a treatment for insomnia.
Essentially, meditation lowers your heart rate and brings the body into a parasympathetic (relaxed) state, which can help to calm the nervous system and prepare your body and mind for sleep.
If you often have a racing mind at night, meditation also provides a space to acknowledge, sit with and let go of any difficult feelings or thoughts that might otherwise disrupt your sleep.